A crossover between Hellblazer and the world of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, using the story of the accompanying Ghost comic.
Chapter 1: Prodigal
“I want a word with you.”
I knew who he was without even looking round, knew from the moment he put his hand on my shoulder, before he even opened his mouth. I know my own. It might be a magic thing, in the blood, or it might just be the bleeding obvious in front of my own eyes, but I know .
I still nearly choked on my pint with the shock. Just because I recognised him didn't mean that I expected him. I'm not fucking psychic.
I braced myself, and turned round to look at him. I could see her there, in the soft, slack eyelids, sharp jaw, and in the auburn halo of shaggy hair, but behind that, the same receding widow's peak, the strong nose I've always felt was my best feature, and the pale, cool blue eyes that stared back at me from the mirror every morning.
“Alright, Simon?” I said, because it pays to look like you know what you're doing, even when you're bricking it.
I looked back round at my mates, who had gone silent the moment he laid his hand on me. Jamie, frozen with his pint halfway to his mouth, and Chrissy, her fingernails digging into the table, tensing for fight-or-flight. Definitely the smart one of the bunch. Chas looked at me, then up at Simon, then back at me. I could see the wheels turning behind his slack-jawed face as his brain struggled to process the blindingly obvious reality.
“You remember Maria, Chas? Used to hang about with the old Mucous Membrane, back in the day. This is Maria’s boy.” I said, attempting to clarify matters.
Simon looked round the table, his expression impassive, and then back at me. He blinked once, slowly, and his mouth remained the same flat, unreadable line. I felt it then, the distant scent of candle wax, sweet fried dough and rancid fruit. My memories of our last encounter were hazier than the once had been, but I was sure it hadn’t been there before, sure that I would have noticed at the time. I knew I had felt it somewhere else, but for the life of me, I couldn’t place it. When I opened my eyes again, in the flash as my vision adjusted to the light, I saw it: the darkness that passed just for a moment across his face, and the sudden white afterglow of the bones beneath. I shook my head, not sure if it was my imagination or not.
“I want a word with you.” He repeated, his voice a dull monotone, a world away from the angry kid who’d blocked my way, his fists clenched, ready to attack an adult twice his size with pent up, livid fury. I wondered what had happened to him, but I had a sneaking feeling that whether I liked it or not, I might be about to find out.
I shrugged at the staring circle around the table. “Duty calls.” I said, before I drained the dregs of my pint. I got up, swinging my coat off the chair and over my shoulder as I moved to follow him outside. I wasn’t expecting trouble, he just didn’t have that vibe, but that didn’t mean he wasn’t bringing trouble or trouble was looking for him. Frankly, he looked like he was stoned out of his mind.
I gave Chas a nod that suggested I might catch up with him later, and he frowned, so I waved my hand with a dismissive expression. I didn’t want him losing sleep over me, or worse trying to lend a hand. I was in enough bad books as it was, and I hadn't even bought a round yet. I was going to have spadework to do next week.
Outside, he paused only to allow me to catch up and draw level before he silently moved off.
“How’s your Mum?” I asked, hurrying to catch up.
He shrugged. “As shit as can be expected.” he said, declining to elaborate further. I didn’t push it, but it didn't sound exactly great . I just trotted along behind, and kept my thoughts to myself.
Simon had grown tall despite the best combined efforts of shit genes and chronic poverty, but he stooped, his shoulders slumped, as if he was past caring. His posture hid that actually, if you looked properly, he was built like a brick shithouse. If I'd been better dressed, he could have passed for my bodyguard.
Already the autumn evening was drawing in around us, the streets shrouded in the pale sodium glow of lamplight and the alleys off the main road inky pools of black concealing God-knows-what, but Simon didn’t seem worried. He walked along at a steady pace, and I followed. He didn’t seem in a hurry to talk, and I wasn’t in a hurry to get started either, but just when this had gone on long enough to be awkward, he turned sharply left into a dark alcove.
Shit . I knew this place.
The door was invisible from the street, not because of magic per se , but because it had been smothered with so many torn and yellowing posters and overlaid with scrawls of graffiti for so long that it looked just like another piece of wall. An ordinary punter would have walked right on by, but I could feel the wards thrumming as we approached, a deep electrical hum that sent a clear message to anyone thinking of opening it: fuck off.
Simon stopped directly in front of it, and muttered something under his breath that I couldn’t make out, whilst placing his palm in the centre of the door, on a crackled, faded poster with a symbol of a sugar skull. The spray paint pattern shifted as the ward unlocked with a gust of the same aura that hit me when I first saw him, but stronger: the rancid fruit winning out over the sweet fried dough and the candles. I knew then who had her claws into Simon, and the thought did not please me at all.
I had been here before, years ago, at the bequest of some new-breed Pruszków mob hardmen, who saw soft pickings in the block of buildings owned by London's minute Mexican minority. We were on the north side of the block, and quick glance either side confirmed Tepito to the left, Lavadero to the right.
The three men who came to see me were worried, because, and I admired their enthusiasm to adopt British mannerisms so readily, of “ weird bollocks” since they attempted to firebomb my premier local purveyor of authentic barrio cuisine for failing to stump up on protection money. The ludicrous idea of Corazon Sanchez, the most feared and revered of Tepito brujas coughing up for protection brought a smile to my face. She was the last person who needed protected around here.
A full-on duel between me and her would have taken out three floor of prime south London real-estate, and I had no specific loyalty to my new customers, so we called it quits over a particularly fine bottle of tequila and I warned the Polish boys just to leave the place the fuck alone. Needless to say, they didn’t listen, and I think given the circumstances, their families should just be glad there was enough remains for a decent burial.
Simon slid a mundane key into the physical lock and when it twisted, the door swung open at his touch. He held the door open, and jerked his head for me to follow him inside. As I crossed the threshold I felt the wards crackle over my skin and then, as I passed the threshold, it ebbed away. Behind me, the door slammed shut, and we were in the dark narrow stairwell leading to the flats above, the air around us heavy with the smell of tobacco and old cooking.
He was already ahead of me, up along the passage towards the base of the stairwell proper and he stopped on the threshold, silhouetted in the flickering light.I caught up, and discovered it came from several hundred fairy lights woven through the balusters on the stairway, backlighting a drop of tulle that sectioned off the curve of the stairs into an alcove decked out in a kitsch combination of high Catholic iconography and dazzling floristry.
I might have mistaken it for a fashion shoot, because in the centre, at the focal point of devotion, a thin girl in a voluminous taffeta bridal gown slouched languidly on a folding chair. Except she went beyond the fashionable thinness of haute-couture, she was frankly skeletal. The arms draped over the arms of the chair were barely fatter than the bones beneath, and I could count the ribs under the taut, shiny skin exposed by the low cut of her dress.
The air around her was thick with power, and I couldn’t be sure if the sweet, rancid smell of decay was real, or whether it was the impression of the magic coiling around her, drifting out into the space in slow, wafting drifts, sizzling against my shielding with a faint bluish haze.
Slowly, she turned to look at us, staring past Simon to focus on my with an inhuman gaze of multi-faceted, glittering coldness where her eyes should have been, deep in the dark hollowed sockets of her skull.
“Hello, John Constatine.” she said, with a wide, unnatural, smile,“I think it’s time we had a little chat.”